Dessa Hayes

Graduated 2017

Double Major in Creative Writing and English Literature and the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities

Hometown: Ottawa, ON

What have you been up to after graduating from SASAH?

First, I returned to Western as a "second degree" student to complete my Honours Specialization in Anthropology. Then, I graduated with an MA in Archaeology at University College London, a mere 6 months before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, I've been able to flex my Humanities and Social Science skills in internships from a variety of disciplines (and geographic locations)! These include venturethree, a brand consultancy in London (England); the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, a regional museum in London (Ontario); and the Canadian Association for the Performing Arts (CAPACOA), a national non-profit with fully-remote staff members living across the country. Currently, I am on a short-term Digital Discoverability contract with CAPACOA. I help performing arts organizations use open data platforms (like Wikidata and Google Knowledge Graph) to connect more easily and efficiently to audiences.

What attracted you to this program?

As someone who loved pretty much all of her high school subjects (except for phys ed), deciding which university program to pick was a challenge for me. I was always envious of Renaissance men like Leonardo Da Vinci who were allowed to have many different jobs instead of being forced to stick to one specialty for the rest of their lives. SASAH appealed to my interdisciplinary interests by allowing me to explore topics across the arts and showcase my knowledge in creative projects and assignments (not just essays and exams). Small class sizes and international opportunities were added bonuses!

What are your thoughts about life as a SASAH student? What makes it unique?

Because it's a small program, you can easily connect with your fellow SASAH students and your professors. As much as I loved being a part of my English and Anthropology communities, the SASAH community felt a lot more special, because you're in the same classroom every week with the same group of people for 4 years. I also lived on the SASAH floor at Ontario Hall when I was in first year, so I was constantly surrounded by people who were going through the exact same things I was going through. It was a comforting, supportive dynamic. 

How did your relationships with other SASAH students positively affect your experience at Western overall?

When I first came to Western, I was a socially anxious 17 years old, living 7 hours away from my family, in a city where I didn't know a single soul. My 5 years at Western took a big toll on my mental health, but getting to know a small group of people with similar interests made my undergrad experience a lot easier. The SASAH community was open and welcoming and helped me feel more at home. To this day, most of my fondest Western memories involve at least one of my SASAH friends.

How has SASAH prepared you for the job market and/or graduate school?

Because of its small seminar-style classes and discussion-centred nature, my transition from SASAH student to grad student wasn't all that shocking. Many of the theories I learned in SASAH even proved helpful for my Archaeology classes. I remember one day in my Theoretical Foundations class, the professor began a short lecture about postmodernism. While most of my classmates (many of whom had done their undergrads at prestigious universities like Oxford) were frantically taking notes, I was able to sit back and relax for those 15 minutes, because it was a summary of what I'd already learned in my first-year SASAH class! Furthermore, the unique hands-on projects I completed as a SASAH student have helped me stand apart from the crowd in my job applications. After all, how many English and Archaeology graduates have had the chance to co-curate an art exhibition in their third year?

What lessons and skills contributed to your success after you graduated?

More generally, SASAH helped me refine my communication skills (especially my verbal skills) from so many class discussions. Being in a classroom with a diverse group of students also helped me consider things from multiple perspectives. Knowing how to make a point and argue it well, while also being flexible and open to new ideas, are crucial skills for any job that involves working as part of a team. In my current job, I've also been using my second-year Digital Humanities notes, as I code in HTML and CSS for the CAPACOA website and brainstorm ways to maximize digital discoverability for the performing arts.

As an experienced graduate, do you have any advice for current SASAH students?

As the first person in my immediate family to go to university, I had to figure out a lot of things on my own. So, of course, I made some mistakes. The biggest mistake I made was getting so focused on my classes that I neglected to start preparing for my future after school. Even though I graduated at the top of my class in my Creative Writing/English Literature program, I had a harder time getting interviews for the kinds of jobs I wanted after university, because most of my previous work experience was in retail/hospitality. If I could do it over again, I would spend a lot more time networking with the Advisory Council and seeking arts/heritage summer internships, not only through SASAH but also through government programs like Young Canada Works and Canada Summer Jobs.